Cat Scratches
Interactive Twitter Facebook

Mitchell hard at work on UK Hoops' mentality entering UT trip

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Matthew Mitchell will lead his Kentucky team into a trip to No. 8 Tennessee on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell will lead his Kentucky team into a trip to No. 8 Tennessee on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell doesn't typically make a habit of looking back, but this week was an exception.

His team facing a crisis after five losses in nine games, he pulled the tape on UK Hoops school-record-tying 11-0 start. He showed the Wildcats clips of their wins over top-10 opponents Baylor and Louisville. He reminded them of their four hard-fought road victories.

"I just tried to show them that we're not sitting in some rah-rah session where I'm making things up and trying to make you look good," Mitchell said.

Since that start, optimism about UK's Final Four chances has faded outside the program. Inside the walls of the Joe Craft Center, the Cats' confidence followed a similar trajectory. Mitchell, however, has remained steadfast in his faith.

"I just wanted to tell them the reason that I believe we can move forward and be a great team and be heard from in this league and beyond, is because they have already proven to me that they can do it," Mitchell said.

Mitchell's only goal was to encourage a similar belief on the part of his players.

"Whether we ever get there or not is not the point, the point is that you believe that and then prepare that way," Mitchell said. "We just need to know that we can show up every day and if we choose we can be the best team in the country. That mindset is what I was trying to get them back to."

Early returns suggest the film session may have worked.

In a dominant 108-78 win over Ole Miss on Thursday, UK looked closer to its early-season form than at any point in Southeastern Conference play. DeNesha Stallworth (19 points, 11 rebounds) rediscovered her All-American form from before a December knee injury and Jennifer O'Neill (27 points) combined with her to form a potent inside-out duo.

The performance was another shot of confidence.

"I think that most of our problems, while we had some physical problems with injuries and some of what has been going on has been physical, but to me the lion's share of it has been mental and emotional," Mitchell said. "I think that confidence is very important for this team right now."`

It will be particularly important as No. 18/18 UK (18-6, 6-5 SEC) travels to No. 8/8 Tennessee (20-2, 9-2 SEC) for a matchup at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. As good as the Lady Volunteers may be, Mitchell knows his mind needs to be on his own team more than anything else.

"My concerns are about Kentucky right now," Mitchell said. "I just want to get ready to do the things that we need to do to beat Tennessee, and that is more about Kentucky than them."

That begins with tempo.

"I think we need to get our minds ready on playing Kentucky basketball," Mitchell said. "That means a fast-paced game."

In half-court offense, UK will need to be ready for a UT defense that features a great deal of zone. On defense, UK's bigs must be prepared to battle with the likes of Isabelle Harrison and Bashaara Graves.

"They have some really powerful interior post players that they try to get the ball in there to," Mitchell said. "It will be a great battle and a great opportunity for us to beat a quality opponent."

Senior guard Meighan Simmons spearheads the attack for Tennessee, averaging 15.2 points.

"She's real fast, really fast, explosive and an explosive scorer," Mitchell said. "She's one of the fastest players with the basketball that I've coached against. When she's on, she's one of the most explosive scorers I've ever been around."

That description doesn't sound much different from UK's O'Neill, a player with whom Mitchell describes his relationship as "complicated."

"She's a joy in my life because she has brought so much to us and so much to our program," Mitchell said. "She's a kid that's done a lot for me in a lot of different ways and hopefully I've helped her, but she's just real, real stubborn."

Her stubbornness comes from her cerebral nature. O'Neill has a tendency to overanalyze, while Mitchell wants her to keep it simple.

"You need to attack every time and when you don't have the ball you need to be ready to shoot," Mitchell said. "Every time you need to be down, whether you do or not, but you need to be ready because it's a threat. Defensively, you need to be in a stance getting after the basketball every time. It's not complicated."

O'Neill made it look pretty simple against Ole Miss on Thursday. If she can repeat that performance on Sunday, Mitchell might not need to go into the archives to find tape of a big win any longer.

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://cstv.collegesports.com/mt5.2/mt-tb.cgi/52563

Leave a comment




Recent Comments